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From the sea to the desert

From the sea to the desert

Words: Melanie Ho

RacingThePlanet competitors train in various ways to get them into shape


From the famed island of Alcatraz in California to a desire to reach Africa from Europe by water, many of the RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 competitors have moved from the sea to the desert and back again in their attempts to race around the world.


Right before coming to Namibia, Frank Marriott (United Kingdom) left his home in Hong Kong to go to the southern Chinese island of Hainan to compete in the Hainan Ironman.  The race took place in temperatures that reached 45 degrees Celsius and on the roads, the temperatures reached into the 50s. Not only was it hot, but it was weeks before completing one of the toughest and most competitive RacingThePlanet events to-date.


Marriott said he enjoyed doing triathlons to build endurance but that even something as tough as an Ironman paled in comparison to the 100-km Stage 4 of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009.


“The Ironman takes 13 hours, but I found that the 100 km run was tougher than the Ironman,” Marriott said. “Definitely tougher mentally. I only had one low on the Ironman and had three or four moments over the 100 km run. Just now, I broke down in tears when I saw my daughter’s email.”


Frank Fumich (United States) believes that part of the reason why completing a triathlon is easier than a RacingThePlanet event is due to the support of friends and family along the course. When Fumich went to Hawaii for his Ironman, he had 20 friends and family sign up to travel with him.


“A vacation to Hawaii is hard to pass up,” Fumich said. “Everyone volunteered for that trip.”


Calling triathlons a “happier” event, Fumich said that a major difference between his triathlon experiences and RacingThePlanet events was the solidarity and the mental test. In the long day, for example, the prospect of running alone from flag to flag, glow stick to glow stick, can be a mental pressure cooker, one which Fumich has successfully battled.


“It’s more of a test here, there are no crowds and often it’s just you going glow stick to glow stick,” Fumich said. “It’s a little more introspective.”


Javier Gomez (Spain) first got into endurance sports through an Ironman in the Canary Islands in 2001. Gomez enjoyed the experience so much that he got a tattoo on his right calf to commemorate the event.


Triathlons and open-water swims provide a change in the training and, for Gomez, an injury gave him the idea to swim the 18 km from the edge of Spain to the tip of Morocco. The 2008 journey took him six hours and 38 minutes. The idea came after swimming in a pool gym and deciding he needed a different challenge.


“I tried for the hardest,” Gomez said.  


Nicholas Wickes (United States) is another swimmer, who completed an open water swim from Alcatraz Island to mainland California.


“It was cold, we raced a mile and a half and everyone was in wetsuits except for those crazy enough to just cover themselves in Crisco,” Wickes said. “There was a six mile an hour current and I was hooked.”


While a lot of athletes use triathlons to complement their training to the RacingThePlanet events, the two are different in many respects. Wickes pointed out the added cost of a bike, but also said that the orderly fashion of the event and the controlled setting really separates a triathlon from an expedition-like race in rough country.


“In these kinds of races there’s an element of the unknown and that’s one of the reasons I signed up for Namibia,” said Wickes, who also completed the Atacama Crossing (Chile) 2006 and the Gobi March (China) 2008.


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